Running five kilometres non-stop should be your fitness goal for summer

Starting running for the first time or getting back into it after an extended break can be daunting. But it doesn't have to be if you follow some ground rules that are designed to help make your first five kilometres both enjoyable and rewarding. 

Middle distance runner and coach Bronwyn Humphrys says beginner training programs should be unique to each person's ability and background.

Start slow 

"There are lots of great beginner running training programs and apps to help get you started, so do your research to find the one that's suitable for you," says Humphrys. 

"One approach is to get out two to four times per week for run-walks. Start with a four x four program, which means walk four minutes then run one minute (or 30 seconds if one minute feels too much). 

"Slowly increase either the running time component or the overall time component, but don't increase both at once," warns Humphrys. 

Take your time 

If your goal is to be able to run five kilometres then give yourself plenty of time to train to achieve this. The amount of time it will take you to be ready to run this distance depends on your current fitness level, any previous running experience, and your goals. It's tempting to lock yourself into a time period such as eight weeks, but it's best to use the 10 percent rule to guide your training.

"Wherever a person starts, the 10 percent increase every week, with a 'down' week where there will be a cut back in minutes/kilometres run, is a good rule to abide by," says Humphrys.

"Every person's body is different and will adapt at different rates, and we should not be afraid or ashamed of taking longer than our peers to reach our goal."

Running days 

How many times a week you walk/run is highly dependant on what exercise you're currently doing. Humphrys recommends starting with two to four sessions a week. 

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"Giving your body time to rest and recover after each training session is vital," says Humphrys. "Every beginner's running program should include rest days. These can look like complete rest or a short easy walk." 

Running uses many muscles and to help prevent injury as well as support your progress, strength training is a non-negotiable. 

Stronger than yesterday

Strength work is extremely important for everyone, especially runners, but it doesn't necessarily mean pumping iron at the gym. 

"Sufficient strength work can be done at an exercise or Pilates class or even in a park or your lounge room," says Humphrys. "Core strength training (not just the abs) but also the glutes and hamstrings, is more important than you might think because these muscles do the bulk of the heavy lifting when you run." 

If you're not sure what strength training exercises to do, then get advice from a Physiotherapist, Exercise Physiologist or qualified running or strength and conditioning coach. Humphrys also recommends doing some type of mobility or massage routine, such as a foam roller session, a few times per week.

Rookie mistakes 

While running is the most pure, universal activity, like any newbie there are a lot of traps that runners can step into if not careful. One of the most common mistakes people make when starting or coming back to running is increasing load too quickly. 

Put it down to excitement and enthusiasm, but many runners do too much mileage, too fast, too soon. They run on rest days without letting the body recover and mistakenly think more is better. 

"The human body is capable of great things. Despite us being able to go for a longer or faster run, it doesn't mean that we should. If we do something our body is not ready for, injury and illness are likely to result, and you may lose interest in running altogether," says Humphrys. 

Build a team 

To cross the five kilometre finish line, Humphrys urges runners to enlist help from a range of sources. "Find friends who like running, join a running crew or engage an accredited running coach to develop the right plan to help you achieve your goals. And don't let little niggles become big injuries. See a Physiotherapist or massage therapist early," adds Humphrys.